Can you name Nebbiolo’s closest relative? A rare red grape native to Piedmont, Freisa apparently has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo. According to Ian D’Agata, the maestro of vino Italiano, Freisa is likely one of Nebbiolo’s parents.
This indigenous variety has grown in Piedmont, Italy since the early 1500’s. Its name comes from the Latin word “freesia,” meaning strawberries. Freisa was the most expensive wine in the region in 1517, as tariff documents in Pancalieri describe a pricey bottle called Fresearum. From then up to the 19th century, Freisa encompassed over half the vineyard area in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria. Though considered a rare variety today, at the time it was prominently featured in all red blends of Piemonte. Plus, local farmers would vinify Freisa into sweet frizzante wines to balance the variety’s rustic qualities.
About the Variety
Freisa grows prominently throughout the vineyards surrounding Turin. Italian wine experts attribute this concentration of plantings to the House of Savoy, who cultivated the grape in their royal vineyards. Currently, Freisa grows in the Turin Hills, the Langhe, and Monferrato.
The variety has medium length, cylindrical, single-winged clusters that aren’t very compact. It’s resistant to late frosts as well as vineyard diseases and delivers good yields consistently. Budbreak occurs relatively later towards the end of April and is ripe for the picking in late September or early October. Therefore, plantings sprawl to all corners of this Italian wine region. Yet this grape has a tendency towards coulure, a condition which results from weather hazards and prohibits grapes from fully developing after flowering. Moreover, Freisa continues to grow well in humidity and cooler sites in Piedmont.
However, since this grape is competing for prime real estate in one of Italy’s leading wine regions, it’s often planted in less favorable sites. Consequently, Freisa’s reputation suffered and plantings declined. In 1970, the Italian National Institute of Statistics documented 7,410 hectares of the variety in all of Italy. That number decreased to 1,041 hectares as of 2010. Finally, in 2018 there were only 787 hectares of Freisa accounted for in Italian vineyards.
Freisa in the Glass
Generally, Freisa shows a stunning medium-deep ruby red color. While it exhibits similar characteristics to Nebbiolo, it’s comparatively much more intense on the color front. Aromatically, this rare variety aligns with its close relative, but is more fruit forward and dominated by aromas of tart red cherries, strawberries, rose, and violet. This variety offers medium-to-high acidity and is rich in tannins, lending itself well to aging. Furthermore, Ian D’Agata states after 10-12 years of aging, Freisa is almost indistinguishable from Nebbiolo.
Plus, Freisa is an ideal native grape to explore for a variety of wine lovers. It’s produced in a range of styles from dry and still to sweet and spumante or frizzante wines.
Shop These Designations
Freisa Di Chieri DOC
- Established in 1973
- The most famous Freisa referenced throughout history by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and royalty
- Minimum vineyard elevation: 180m
- Rosso, Rosso Superiore, and Spumante wines – all must be 90% minimum Freisa
- Spumante is made in the Charmat method using autoclaves
- Superiore wines must be aged 1 year minimum of which 6 months must be in barrel
Freisa d’Asti DOC
- Established in 1972
- Look to this DOC to taste the variety in purity, as wines must be made from 100% Freisa
- Includes all the municipalities of the province of Asti, except for Villanova d’Asti and Cellarengo d’Asti
- Superiore must be aged for 11 months minimum
- Styles range from dry to sweet
Other Designations Including Freisa:
Accornero is a family-owned winery located in the commune of Vignole Monferrato northeast of Asti. The family of grape growers has been cultivating vineyards in Monferrato since the mid-1800’s.In 1957, 6th generation Giulio Accornero established some of the current family vineyards in Vignale Monferrato and began producing wine. His sons, Ermanno and Massimo, followed in Giulio’s footsteps and further developed the family winery and vineyards with respect to tradition and history of the region.
From 25 hectares of estate vineyards cultivated within the municipality of Vignale Monferrato, Accornero produces wines with a strong connection to the Monferrato terroir. Their winemaking philosophy is centered around looking towards the future while remaining grateful for the past. Accornero believes “to make an excellent wine, there can be no rush” and this passion, commitment, and dedication to quality shines throughout their full range of wines.
Accornero also produces a fantastic Griginolino, another deliciously complex rare variety from Piedmont.
Other Freisa Producers to Seek Out
- G.D. Vajra (I’m currently cellaring their 2017 Kyé Freisa.)
- Cascina Gilli
- Bartolo Mascarello
Tasting Notes: Accornero La Bernardina Freisa Monferrato DOC 2019
- Deep ruby red color in the glass.
- Highly aromatic featuring black cherry, tart red cherry, raspberry, grilled red plum, violet, rose, and cocoa bean aromas.
- Medium bodied with medium acidity, grippy tannins, similar red fruit flavors on the palate, and a bitter finish.
- Opened this one too early so I could feature it on the series, but it would have benefited from a few more years in bottle to become better integrated….still delicious though!
Freisa is the ideal companion for braised meats and more caramelized meat dishes like Peking duck or Korean bulgogi. This wine is a great match for Piedmontese dishes like agnolotti del plin or tajarin pasta with ragú. If meat isn’t your thing, try pairing this Italian wine with truffle risotto, braised wild mushrooms with polenta, or a caramelized onion and gorgonzola galette.